PHOTOS BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
In the spirit of summer Fridays and long weekends, we asked three local writers to compile a full-day itinerary for exploring their side of town. The result is a three-day guide to enjoying the greater Milwaukee area, from the rolling hills of Lake Country and the North Shore’s picturesque coastline to the ever-growing culinary mecca that is downtown and its surrounding neighbors.
DAY 1: THE NORTH SHORE
BY JOAN ELOVITZ KAZAN
You don’t need to hop a plane to enjoy a drive overlooking a gorgeous shoreline. Lake Michigan’s North Shore has impressive views of the water that are yours for the (selfie) taking. Charge your
phone, slather on the sunscreen, and head east to Lake Drive for a fun day on the third coast — minus the pricey airfare.
Treat yourself by ordering a freshly baked, flaky croissant, pastry or quiche to go from Shorewood’s North Shore Boulangerie, arguably the most authentic French bakery/café in town. Then cut over to Lake Drive and drive north to nearby Atwater Park to enjoy breakfast by the lake, and stop for a selfie with the iconic alphabet sculpture, officially known as “Spillover II” by artist Jaume Plensa.
Fueled up and ready to work out? Lakefront parks offer paths for every level of fitness, from a leisurely stroll to an intense climb. A staircase at Klode Park leads to a small beach, so try sprinting back up the winding path or boost your heart rate with an intense trek up the steep, grassy hill.
For more forested terrain, drive north to the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center to explore the wooded trails. Take it slow, or challenge yourself to climb the tall watchtower to strike a pose framed by treetops and the breathtaking expanse of sparkling blue water. Admission to the center is $8 for adults and $5 for youth ages 3 to 17.
For an unfussy yet tasty lunch, swing over to Benji’s Deli in Fox Point. Indulge in a signature sandwich, like the “Hear-O Israel” — a hearty half-pounder layered with hand-carved corned beef, pastrami, salami and peppered beef, or opt for the deli’s lighter fare, which includes freshly tossed salads and homemade soups.
After lunch, hop on Interstate 43 North to Grafton to take a hike through Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve (pictured). A moderately paced, 30-minute walk along a wooded path will lead you to a small lakefront beach. The cliché “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey” holds true. This journey is dotted with ponds, cliffs and other scenic spots. You might accidentally photobomb a wedding photo (don’t worry, the brides and grooms have been forewarned), you’ll probably spot a frog or two, and you’ll definitely meet a handful of dogs along the way.
Nothing caps off a day of outdoorsy fun like a glass of wine or two. Mequon’s The Ruby Tap lives up to its name with a plethora of wine on tap and a self-serve wine machine. Non-wine lovers can enjoy an impressive variety of beers on tap and a rotating specialty cocktail on tap, which might be a mojito one week and sangria the next. Munchies include flatbreads, truffle popcorn and beautiful cheese and charcuterie platters. Sit back and relax on the outdoor patio’s comfy couches and overstuffed chairs.
Still hungry? Ferrante’s has been a North Shore mainstay for 40 years. The vibe is “Cheers” meets Little Italy, and the menu features favorites like the “5 Italians in a Boat” appetizer: five skewered and smothered meatballs perfect for sharing. No tiny food trend here — the generous portions are all shareable. Try the popular veal piccata or the chicken marsala. The lasagna and chicken Parmesan are quite good too. A big Italian meal — what better way to end a full day exploring the coast of Lake Michigan’s North Shore.
Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve
North Shore Boulangerie
The Ruby Tap
Schlitz Audubon Nature Center
DAY 2: LAKE COUNTRY
BY PAM FERDERBAR
Shake off the ordinary with a day in Lake Country, the perfect antidote for the summertime blues. A change of scenery, a good sweat and sweet serenity will have you ready to take on the world. Another day, that is.
All you’re going to need is sunscreen, sneakers, a bottle of water and a serious desire to find your bliss. It’s going to be a busy day, so you’ll need fuel. Birch & Banyan Coffee (pictured) will get your heart pumping and nourish your body with a steaming cup of Anodyne coffee and a healthy smoothie, yogurt parfait, or — since you’ll be burning lots of calories in the hours ahead — a scone or other delectable piece of homemade bakery.
Owner Jessie Senglaub has taken a historic building dating back to 1889 and transformed it into an oasis of charm where locals know the baristas by name, and you’re as likely to plop down for half an hour as the whole morning while working on your novel. But not today. You’ve got some Zen to chase.
Now that you’re properly fed and caffeinated, it’s time to hit the trails. Stretching between Waukesha and Cottage Grove, the Glacial Drumlin State Trail runs for 52 miles through farmlands and glacial topography, which means it’s fairly level and insanely picturesque. Set on an abandoned rail corridor, the smooth limestone and asphalt surfaces make this trail without cars heaven for bicyclists, runners and walkers. Don’t have a bike? You can rent one with a helmet less than a mile from the trail at Wheel & Sprocket in Delafield. (Call ahead to reserve.) If in-line skating is more your style, the stoke factor is high on a 13-mile section running from Waukesha through the town of Dousman, which has been paved with super smooth asphalt.
If biking isn’t crushing your muscles to the max, about 2 miles west of Wales the trail briefly follows the Ice Age National Scenic Trail into Lapham Peak, where a 40-foot observation tower offers some glute-busting stair-running, plus 360-degree views at the top that’ll take your breath away. (While you catch your breath, of course.)
You’ve burned your calories, worked up a sweat, and now you need to relax and get a great mani-pedi while you’re at it. The Spa at West Wood Health and Fitness is a perfect spot for some serious R&R&R — relaxation, rejuvenation and renewal. Grab a nutrient-rich summer salad or light soup and sandwich combo at the Brewers Two Café inside the fitness center, and then get your pamper on with a massage, facial and mani-pedi. Featuring an Aveda product line that boosts your spa experience with stress-busting benefits, you can also schedule 5 Elements Acupuncture if you want to take your R&R&R to the next level.
You found your Zen and you’re glowing from head to pedicured toe — relaxed and recharged, but there’s still some nirvana left in this day. You don’t have to leave the county to feel the warm sand between your pretty toes at water’s edge while enjoying a cool cocktail at sunset. All you have to do is visit Gina’s Sports Dock on Pewaukee Lake, which boasts the only beach bar and the most exquisite sunset views in all of Lake Country. Order a grilled burger, sip your sangria, and savor the sunset.
Birch & Banyan Coffee
Brewers Two Café
Gina’s Sports Dock
Glacial Drumlin State Trail
Ice Age National Scenic Trail
Kettle Moraine State Forest — Lapham Peak Unit
The Spa at West Wood Health & Fitness Center
Wheel & Sprocket
DAY 3: DOWNTOWN
BY JENNA KASHOU
With a new arena on the horizon and development on the rise (quite literally) at every turn, it’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the downtown district, but exploring the neighborhoods just south of Wisconsin Avenue, like the Historic Third Ward and Walker’s Point, promises culinary and recreational delights too.
Start your day by renting a kayak, and cruise down the Milwaukee River. Milwaukee Kayak Co. offers kayak, canoe and stand-up paddleboard rentals. New guided tours this summer include the Milwaukee River History tour with the Milwaukee County Historical Society as well as the Menomonee River Valley tour with Menomonee Valley Partners. All rentals and tours launch from Jerry’s Docks, between the Historic Third Ward and Walker’s Point.
After an exercise-filled morning, enjoy lunch at the Milwaukee Public Market. The ever-evolving public market has become a stronghold in the Historic Third Ward. The newest addition to the mix of restaurants, shops and food purveyors is On the Bus, a health-focused restaurant serving from a counter crafted from a 1971 Volkswagen bus. Specializing in vegetarian and vegan meals and recipes with superfoods like kale and acai, On the Bus serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, along with vegan ice cream and made-to-order smoothies. Also, don’t miss St. Paul Fish Company’s outdoor Tiki bar on the east side of the building. It serves its full menu of seafood favorites and deliciously strong drinks, including boozy slushies.
After lunch, casually make your way from the Historic Third Ward to Walker’s Point for an afternoon of antique shopping. Half of the fun of antiquing is the hunt, but if you’re the type to get overwhelmed with hoards of stuff, you’ll appreciate the smaller, well-curated shops in Walker’s Point. Clinton Street Antiques and Annex Antiques are side by side and feature art, furniture and architectural gems. Alt’s Antiques specializes in rustic pieces and oddities as well as flowers and plants. Alt himself is always on hand to tell you the story behind each of the interesting pieces he’s collected. And Brew City Salvage has a large selection of midcentury modern furniture.
Next — since we are Brew City, after all — head to Walker’s Point for a brewery tour. If you love art and full-bodied beer, Brenner Brewing Co. is the place for you. The art gallery/craft brewery offers tours Friday from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. every two hours, and Sunday at 2 p.m. If you’re up for anything, try MobCraft Beer. All of the brewery’s unique recipes are crowd-sourced, and you can relax in its spacious taproom. Tours take place at 5:45 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Friday, and 12:45 p.m., 2 p.m., 3:15 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. Or if you’re gluten-free, Lost Valley Cider Co. has 20 ciders on tap from all over the world, and many more available for purchase. Try the recently released, house-made cider aged in oak whiskey and rum barrels.
End your day with dinner nearby. Second Street in Walker’s Point is chock-full of delicious and innovative restaurants. The newest spot, Likkle Jamayka, adds some Caribbean flavor to the mix. Serving lunch and dinner, Likkle Jamayka has a small menu with bold flavors, specializing in seafood and jerk chicken. Try the curried goat or stewed oxtails if you’re feeling adventurous, and wash it down with a cocktail called the Bob Marley. Or if you’re craving a casual Mexican meal, try The Laughing Taco (pictured). The taqueria is owned by James Beard Award nominee Justin Carlisle and his wife, Lucia Muñoz, and offers a handful of simple taco options and drinks.
Brenner Brewing Co.
Brew City Salvage
Clinton Street Antiques and Annex Antiques
The Laughing Taco
Lost Valley Cider Co.
Milwaukee Kayak Co.
Milwaukee Public Market